Biden administration announces plan to deal with worsening wildfires

US President Joe Biden (C) and First Lady Jill Biden (R) tour a neighborhood destroyed by the Marshall Fire alongside Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle (L) in Louisville, Colorado January 7, 2022.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

The Biden administration this week unveiled a 10-year plan to spend billions of dollars to fight destructive wildfires on millions more acres of land and make forests more resilient to future fires.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a statement on Tuesday that its plan, called a “wildfire crisis strategy,” targets dozens of areas in 11 western states. The plan includes treatments such as thinning out overgrown trees, pruning forests, and performing prescribed burns to minimize dead vegetation.

The administration’s plan quadruples the government’s forest health fuels and treatments. It comes after a year in which California saw the second-largest wildfire in state history and Colorado suffered its most destructive blaze ever, which ignited unusually late in the year. season.

“We’re not going to stop the fires,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at a press briefing in Arizona on Tuesday. “But what we can do is start the process of reducing the catastrophic nature of these fires.”

Higher temperatures and more severe drought conditions fueled by climate change, along with expanding development in urban and wilderness areas, have caused more intense and prolonged wildfire seasons in the United States. The researchers also say that decades of policies calling for all fires to be extinguished, rather than allowed to burn in a controlled manner, has caused a buildup of flammable brush that is fueling the flames.

A firefighter saves an American flag as flames consume a home during the Dixie Fire in Greenville, California on August 4, 2021.

Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images

The US Forest Service previously treated up to 2 million acres in the western United States each year. Under the new plan, the Forest Service will work with the Department of the Interior and other partners to treat up to 20 million additional acres on National Forests and Grasslands and up to 30 million acres additional federal, state, tribal and private lands over the next decade.

The agency will focus its efforts on fire-prone lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah and Washington. The plan is only partially funded so far, with $3 billion over five years coming from the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was signed into law in November.

More than 58,000 fires scorched more than 7 million acres last year, according to data from the National Centers for Environmental Information. In 2020, the worst wildfire season on record burned more than 10 million acres in the United States

Fires in California, Canada and the US Pacific Northwest last year emitted an estimated 83 million tonnes of carbon pollution. The plumes of smoke from these fires crossed the Atlantic Ocean and reached large areas of Europe.

“We already have the tools, knowledge and partnerships in place to begin this work in many of our national forests and grasslands,” Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said in a statement. “We now have funding that will allow us to leverage research and lessons learned to address this wildfire crisis facing many of our communities.”

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